Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Of Eggs and Arno

Last week if you were on eBay searching for original art by Peter Arno, you would have found a somewhat disconcerting original illustration. The eBay seller describes it as "a bold and dramatic cartoon / illustration of a man with a broken egg." The seller goes on to assert it "is by the famous American cartoonist Peter Arno" and adds "I am not sure what this illustration was created for." Indeed.

The seller, random926, has 100% positive feedback on eBay, which should be reassuring. So what's your gut reaction? Does this look like the work of Peter Arno? Of course it doesn't.

The signature appears a bit shaky and unsure of itself.

So we have questionable artwork and a questionable signature. Should we declare it a fake? Calling this a fake will upset at least two people:  the buyer and the seller. The seller is $158.02 wealthier as a result of this sale. The buyer thinks he has snagged an Arno for a ridiculously good price. Only a fool would tread on their mutual satisfaction. But what if one had proof that this work isn't by Peter Arno? What if there were someone—a humble blogger, say—who could produce this proof? Well, friends, proof is at hand.

It's time to go to your bookshelf and get down your copy of Graphis Annual 75-76. If you can't find your copy, don't panic—I'll show you mine. Let's all turn to page 36. There we see a pair of black-and-white double-spread advertisements from Diamond International Corporation published in the trade press. The first is for window trays for meat and the second promotes protective packages for eggs. Now we know what this illustration was created for. "A broken egg may not seem like much to you—but it can cost you a customer." Note that neither advertisement is signed by Peter Arno and that they were published in the mid-70's a few years after his death in 1968.

So who is the artist? Who is the art director? What is the agency? These are questions Graphis always addresses. The answer to all three queries is Clark L. Robinson.

Clark L. Robinson died late in December of 2014. Presumably, some time between his death and the appearance of this artwork on eBay, someone decided that this illustration could pass for an Arno original. All it needed was a convincing signature...

Well, the art was good enough for the Graphis Annual. But it's not good enough to be a Peter Arno.

The eBay anticlimax:

eBay Listing Ended March 24, 2016

eBay Item Description

EBay Bid History
One bidder acts in the first few hours and the other acts in the last ten seconds.

March 15, 2017 Update:  Alas, this Clark L. Robinson art has now been framed and matted and put up for sale at Tennessee auction house Chelsea Collectibles in December as an original Peter Arno. The estimate was a jaw-dropping $1,500 to $2,500. Happily, even with a starting bid of $600, it failed to find a buyer.

Chelsea Collectibles, December 12, 2016 sale, Lot 64
Lot passed.

April 12, 2017 Update:  This work by Clark L. Robinson with a forged Peter Arno signature has once again been put up for sale at the same Tennessee auction house, Chelsea Collectibles, and with the same ridiculous estimate.

April 15, 2017 Update:  Today I notified the auction house that this is the work of Clark L. Robinson and not of Peter Arno. An auction house representative responded promptly and read this blog post, taking some material. The auction house revised the listing to "attributed to Peter Arno, artist may be Clark L. Robinson." I would be more definitive, but Chelsea Collectibles deserves some credit. The estimate and opening bid have been lowered. Peter Arno's name remains in the title to lot 181.

Note:  Who was Clark L. Robinson? Here's his obituary.

While we're at it, who was Peter Arno? Consult my posts about Peter Arno.

Better still, take a look at Ink Spill's posts about Peter Arno. You can reserve your copy of Michael Maslin's new biography Peter Arno:  The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker's Greatest Cartoonist on

You'll also want to check out Chris Wheeler's impressive Arno archive.

Finally, don't miss Attempted Bloggery's posts on advertising. Heck, I've got it in my blood.


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